Is one of your favourite chocolate bars made by a woman who was once also a zoologist, wedding planner and café owner? Debb Makin is the founder of Ratio Cocoa Roasters and her 58% Milk Salted Caramel bar *might* have been strategically hidden from a family and consumed in one intense writing session by yours truly. #guiltynotguilty
Debb made the leap from zoology to chocolatier after returning to Australia from Africa and not being able to secure zoology work. While working in other gigs for three years, Debb planned Ratio on the side, before opening up her bean to bar production facility and chocolate bar in Brunswick last year. Debb sources her cocoa beans ethically from around the world, and a tour of her gorgeous factory gives you a chance to taste the differences between beans from different lands, and see them be transformed from crunchy pods into creamy morsels.
In knowing Debb’s story, it’s clear that she has a full appreciation for the ability to direct her own life on her terms. Working lives are rarely lived as straight career paths, and decisions made in one season of our lives, don’t necessarily fit in another. In celebrating her love of chocolate and travel, she’s handcrafted her own version of living fully and bought sweet happiness to not only herself, but a whole city. And my tastebuds are grateful for it!
(If you’re in Melbourne, I highly recommend booking a tour!)
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I always wanted to be a zoologist as I love animals but my mum believes it’s because she showed me John Wayne’s “Hatari” at an impressionable age.
What did/do you study?
Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
1/ Not giving up on my dream to pursue zoology and moving to American with 2 days notice. (I had given up and gone to night school to become a travel agent, done a trial at Flight Centre the day my American boss rang and said my visa had finally come through – all visas were stopped after 9/11 so I thought there was no way I’d get back but as it was already in the system it came through so 2 days later I moved to Texas).
2/ Risking everything financially to open my own business as the majority shareholder in a new field.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
1/ Pushing a food cart through corporate building levels for Spotless whilst studying at night to be a travel agent. This was after returning from a year doing fieldwork in Kenya and unable to get zoology work in Australia.
2/ Managing the café I have a small ownership stake in.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
1/ My parents instilled a good work ethic for my brother and I from an early age.
2/ My brother is a great example of how hard work pays off, after losing everything in a failed business he rebuilt slowly and is a very successful business owner today and my mentor.
3/ My cousin now runs the family sheep station and has modernized the farm to keep up with today’s market. Farming is such a hard profession and its great to see him succeeding.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Secure income, regular hours, small shares in two cafes
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?
It wasn’t a breaking moment. I spent 3 years planning and researching how to open my business. It’s a huge financial risk so wanted it to be a calculated risk. I’m a planner not spontaneous.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
I don’t know if it’s overcoming fear or choosing courage. Only you can change your own life. If I want to do something, go somewhere or see something, I am willing to do it on my own rather than miss out altogether. So many people won’t do things on their own and then complain they haven’t done anything or been anywhere.
You can’t always have “security” – be it guaranteed personal safety, financial or emotional. It takes a lot of sacrifices both financially and timewise to leap. You can’t go to that concert, dinner, trip or buy that new piece of clothing, gadget or ‘it’ thing. Some people are willing to compromise on day to day personal fulfilment for the security and stability it provides and enjoy their creature comforts, while others prefer to risk it all for the chance of something more. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong path as long as you are happy with the path you have personally chosen.
How did you fund your leap?
House as equity, business loan, parents and brother as financial backers.
What other leaps have you made?
Wedding planning to the corporate world, back to wedding planning and taking a $20k pay cut as I hated the [corporate] work. You spend more time at work than anywhere else so you have to enjoy what you are doing.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
Taking a high paying corporate M-F gig. It was boring as hell after years of enjoying low paid, massive hour wedding planning, even though I had done it before and hated it! Sometimes the lieu of money outways the joy factor, but it’s short-lived for me. I was lucky enough to have the money to quit and take a year off to do volunteer work in South Africa after we sold a café at a high profit. This is where the Ratio plan started to formulate.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Not making ends meet. Keep hitting the footpath and spreading the word about our great product.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.
7. It’s great to work for yourself and be proud of what you achieve, but the financial stress is hard.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Doing something you enjoy and can be proud of on a daily basis.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Hours of work and financial strain. Keep looking to the future – apparently, it gets easier!?
What might be your next leap?
Investing in cacao farms.
What are your favourite words to live by?
Keep the number of countries visited higher than your age.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
A few years back I was volunteering in South Africa with an English lady, Paula. She has now packed up her UK life and moved to South Africa fulltime to manage the new animal sanctuary the organisation started.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Trust your gut and go for it.
What question did I miss about your leap? And what’s your answer?
Why chocolate? I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, chocolate has always been my go-to treat. So I wanted to share high quality ethically sourced chocolate with Australia.
Right now I’m: Looking at ways to implement all the wonderful things I saw on a recent trip to Dandelion in San Francisco and Reserva Zorzal in the Dominican Republic.
Hearing: Whatever is on the radio.
Eating: Whatever frozen dinners my mum has supplied to keep me going as I have no time to cook myself.
Drinking: Ratio chocolate brownie milkshake.
Reading: Dandelion’s “Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar”.
Loving: Meeting new people in the chocolate world and sharing ideas.
Have a leaping itch?
Come be part of our
Take A Leap Panel Chat!
Saturday 25 August, 2018
2.00pm – 4.30pm
Meet three fierce and diverse leap takers in real life!
Hear their stories and ask your questions.
We keep it real and help you find your own leaping path.